Dear Emerald and Jasper,
In response to the above note to me, I did write back on Christmas Eve. My letter was lost to cyber space, which is why, in years past, I have always responded via pen and paper. There are some things that are just too precious for electronic media, and my letters to and from you were one of those things. All your previous letters are stored inside the pages of “A Wish for Wings That Work”. Reading that book is a Christmas tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside these last few years. It is probably just as well, that book always makes your mom cry, and Christmas Eve should be a happy time, filled with light, and food.
Your mom has struggled with traditions since your dad died. Actually, she has struggled with traditions since you were wee children. Did you know that your parents never had a Christmas tree of any kind until you were born? Your dad left to guide in the Wallowas over the holiday and came home to a miniature live tree on top of a coffee table the year Emerald arrived on this earth. Your mom just needed some light on the darkest days of the year, and the twinkling bulbs kept her company as she nursed her child back to sleep in the middle of the night. That tree died, and by the time Jasper arrived, a cut tree was accepted, and they put the tree inside the playpen and let you guys have free run. Emerald made a salt dough ornament that year, and I fed it to that cute border collie that lived with you then. I heard she barfed it up and your parents did not find it for a week. Sorry about that. That dog ate your first gingerbread houses as well, so your mom never did that again.
I watched your Christmas traditions grow and change as the both of you gained altitude and attitude. Your dad continued to guide in the Wallowas over the holiday, and your mom stayed home with you while you were too young to spend all day out in the snow. There was one winter where he left, the furnace died, and while it was being repaired she took you sledding at the old Tamarack ski area on Moscow Mountain. There was hot cocoa, and friends, and most importantly sunshine above the inversion that had been covering Moscow for almost a week. It was so much fun, your mom repeated the day for 4 days running. Sunshine, cocoa, and tired kids at the end of the day. Your dad surprised us that year by coming home early. You, Emerald, did not want to see him. It meant you had to share your New Year’s Eve peel and eat shrimp, a treat that mom told you she could not afford to eat when your dad was home. You, Jasper, just jumped into his arms and said, “Daddy, daddy, you’re home! You stink!” I brought you presents, a wooden train set surrounding the first tree that was allowed out of a playpen, a set of skis that never worked anywhere but the living room carpet.
More time went on, and your mom got tired of being left behind over the holidays. You were old enough to go with, had enough body fat to stay warm in the snow as long as you were moving, and they started taking you skiing, taking you into the backcountry, taking you on adventures in places that few people see in the winter time. You, Emerald thought they were all forced marches and couldn’t understand why this family never went anywhere WARM over the solstice. Jasper, you were oblivious as long as they fed you enough calories, preferably in the form of cinnamon rolls. Your dad finally realized that it was not a vacation for your mom if she had to do all the packing and all of the food, and he made arrangements for others to do so (he never really got the hang of cooking, let alone over a propane burner). Your mom also got tired of having to take the tree down on Christmas day in order to leave town the day after. That was the beginning of the ski tree, and the fake arguments as to who would water it, and who would vacuum up the needles. I kept bringing presents, usually ski gear that was got on pro-deal or at ski swaps. Your mom began to get your hand me downs, and was glad for them.
Then, your dad got sick, and the prognosis was not good. Emerald finally had her wishes answered because Bonaire was on her dad’s bucket list, and there was no place warmer for the winter holidays. You stuck your faces in the clear tropical waters, let your dad give you rides in a truck he really shouldn’t have been driving, and ate fish every night while your uncle ordered yet something more with chicken. I brought you suitcases that year, and they were most useful presents, but I am sure you would have traded them, and the tropical time that came with them, for something that not even I could bring. Santa celebrated the fragility of life with you that year, and shook his booty during New Year’s fireworks.
The next Christmas, your dad was gone. It was recent, and raw, and ugly. Your mom had no energy left for traditions that year. The only ones that survived were the ones that involved lights and food. So many years later, she was still seeking light on the darkest days of the year, and nursing her children back to sleep. A hike on Christmas Day with the friends that had held her all year brought the light back in. Returning to the Tamarack area on skis instead of sleds to spread your dad’s ashes. The ski tree. Caramels, roast beast, cinnamon rolls, and french onion soup. Your mom went to the Wallowas that year, and couldn’t ski anything steep for fear of falling, and wanting never to get up. I brought you presents, but I do not remember what they were. I cried as I alit on your slippery roof that year, and just grabbed whatever was on top.
Time has marched on. Christmas traditions have morphed, and yet stayed the same. The ski tree still goes up, though many of the ornaments never make it out of the box. The intimate Christmas hike had at least 38 people this year, though it was special because BOTH LaFortune children were actually in attendance. Cinnamon rolls were made, though the breadmaker responsible for the dough has to be borrowed back now from the person it was gifted to a couple of years ago. Christmas Day gatherings have announced “this is the last year”, and your next Christmas morning will not occur in this house that has been home for 20 years. I brought you presents this year. Maps. Maps to remind you of where you have been and where you have yet to go. And pajamas. Pajamas to let you know that no matter where you go, no matter where I deliver presents next year, you will always have a home. There will be light there, and there will be food.
Your mom struggles with holiday traditions. She still needs light on these darkest days of the year, and she still nurses her love for you in her heart as you and she drift off to sleep in now separate beds. Hikes, and singing, and breakfast, and soup will go on. But the tree may come full circle to a live one again, sledding and wood cutting may replace skiing, and gatherings may have to occur under stars rather than town lights. I will continue to bring you presents in whatever hamlet you decide to call home. Besides, I have to come back next year. Blitzen seems to have developed a crush on Faith, and defected part way back to the North Pole. Keep an eye out for him, would ya?